Me and Jesus, plus nothing...
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)
(Tim) The results of Trinity College's 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) are in and they confirm that the souls of Americans are not being lost to false religions, but to the complete rejection of the Church. This confirms my own experience.
Far and away the largest number of souls who have rejected Church of the Good Shepherd's doctrine in the past decade, investigating us but leaving for somewhere else, left because we require a believer be a member in good standing of some evangelical, Bible-believing church to join with us at the Lord's Table.
We fence the Table quite inclusively, really. I use the liturgy of the old Scottish Book of Worship and it's a balm for weak souls trusting in Christ alone for our salvation. But then, at the end, I warn off those who reject Christ's authority, rejecting the authority of elders over their own soul. If they believe they can relate directly to God, bypassing the ministry and authority of His Church, this rebellion disqualifies them from communing with us, I tell them.
Of course, I go on to show them how easily they may correct the matter...
If they are in transition, I don't mean to exclude them, I regularly say. And if they're in principle opposed to membership rolls and the like, our elders will be pleased to make provision for their conscience by meeting with them, personally, examining them and receiving their promise of submission to instruction and discipline.
But such reassurances rarely do the trick. The problem is more deep-seated than form. It's function.
The fruit of yesterday's and today's evangelicalism (which very much includes churches of my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America) hates ecclesiastical authority as much as domestic and civil authority. And everything they've been taught leads them to believe that "me and Jesus" is all there is. Thus their right to the Lord's Table comes directly from Jesus, Himself. Did He not command them, "This do ye in remembrance of me?" He's the One Who invites them to the Table--not any pastor or elder. How dare we bar them from obeying what Jesus has commanded. It's just not right.
Sadly, individual Christians have not come up with this on their own. They were taught it by their former pastors. Intentionally.
Several years ago, our presbytery had an extended floor and E-mail debate over this matter, and it was a great disappointment to me to see how many men ordained to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament in the PCA were opposed to fencing the Table from those who intentionally refuse to submit to any church authority. The level of their arguments was questions like, "Where in the Bible does it say anyone has to be a church member to eat the Lord's Supper?" And that sort of question came from a man training our future pastors at our denominational seminary, so you see our problem is quite deep-seated.
Well, the accounting's been done and the fruit of our complicity with the Me and Jesus, Plus Nothing theology is in. As the ARIS puts it: "The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion."
Last week I got a call from an elder of my former Presbyterian Church in America congregation, Grace Presbyterian Church of Pardeeville, Wisconsin. There's a hullabaloo over the new pastor fencing the Table against those who reject the authority of the Church. I've been gone sixteen years, now, and it pleases me no end to hear their new pastor and his elders are hanging tough on this one. Souls are at stake.
It might be wise for evangelicals to declare a moratorium on their children memorizing John 3:16. Let them memorize Hebrews 13:17, instead.
What? You say you don't know what Hebrews 13:17 says? For shame.